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Thursday, 09 August 2012
Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano  (Getty Images)
Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (Getty Images)

Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño, Alex Noren and Rory McIlroy led The European Tour challenge after the opening round of the US PGA Championship at Kiawah Island.

Still in with a chance of making Europe's Ryder Cup side, Fernandez-Castaño did his chances the world of good with a five under par round to join McIlroy, Noren and American Gary Woodland on 67, one behind clubhouse leader Carl Pettersson.

The Spaniard birdied the first from ten feet, and picked up three further shots before a first bogey of the day at the 14th.

He did well to save par from 12 feet at the next, then birdied the next two from five and 15 feet.

“I've been thinking too much about the Ryder Cup,” said the Barclays Singapore Open winner.

“It would be a dream come true for me to be a part of that team, not only for The Ryder Cup itself but having Olazábal as the Captain, one of my childhood heroes and a Ryder Cup hero himself. 

“I know I have a good chance, and of course I need to play well this week and probably in the next two weeks when we play Gleneagles, which is the last tournament before The Ryder Cup criteria finishes.”

Noren was delighted that saw him card four birdies, a bogey, and chip in for eagle at the long 16th.

“I couldn't even dream of this at the beginning of the day,” said the Swede. “I got into a groove on the back nine and started hitting better drives.”

Earlier McIlroy kicked off golf's final Major of the year in style to be only one off the lead - helped rather than hindered by a spectator this time.

In last month's Open Championship at Royal Lytham, McIlroy's hopes of a second Major title nosedived after a drive rebounded off a teenager's head out of bounds late on the first day.

This time he hit a lady on the hip after badly pulling his tee shot to the dangerous short 17th - his eighth - but it came back into a nice lie in the sand only 25 feet from the flag.

From there the 23 year old Northern Irishman - already three under for the day - splashed out to six feet, saved his par and brought a cheer from the gallery by running back to give the fan the ball.

"It's becoming a habit hitting people at Majors, so I will try not to do that again," he said after picking up more shots on the second and sixth.

"I think that's my first bogey-free round in a while and it was a great way to start.

"I'm pretty comfortable on the course and only played nine holes on Monday and nine on Tuesday - I didn't feel I needed to play more.

"I'm expecting this to be the best day of the week (weather-wise), but it's hot and you just try to stay hydrated."

Pettersson became an American citizen earlier this year, and as part of the citizenship process the 34 year old had to answer the following question: what is the ocean to the east of America?

Yet another member of the long putter brigade following the Major victories by Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and Ernie Els in the past year, Pettersson was also bogey-free as the thunderstorms of earlier in the week gave way to near perfect conditions - apart from the energy-sapping heat, that is.

Graeme McDowell came home in 33 in the windier afternoon conditions to be part of a group on 68 that also included 1991 winner John Daly, Dutchman Joost Luiten - eight under before bogeying the last four holes - and Adam Scott.

“I played really well and then to finish the round with four straight bogeys is not a good feeling,” said Luiten, playing his first Major in the US.

“But it has been a good experience and I just have to take that into the next rounds and try to stay positive.”

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